Women Share Their Stories

''Voices Heard'' is a series of special reports that has been airing on Monitor Radio to coincide with the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. Today we present four essays from the series by women around the world who talk of their lives, challenges, and loves.

Nyoman Sudiadnyani is a language teacher in Bali, Indonesia.

I am 26 years old and I teach Indonesian language to foreigners. I live with my parents in the town of Tabanan in Central Bali. My parents make and sell lemonade. And we raise black, white, and brown ducks to sell in the market.

I am the only child still living in my parents' house. My older brother and sister have married and moved away. My younger sister is going to university in Java. My mother needs me to help around the house with the cooking and the cleaning. And I make the daily offering to the Hindu gods and take care of the family temple.

As Balinese Hindus, we believe Tuhan maha penting - God is more important than anything else. It is the woman's job to make the offerings to God each day and for our many holidays. That makes it hard for the woman to have a career. She has to divide her time between making offerings, doing housework, caring for her family, and going to work.

Next year I will marry my boyfriend. He is an architect working for the government. After our wedding, I will move to his family's compound.

Women I know cried during their weddings because they had to leave their homes, their families, and their ancestors. Will I cry too? I don't know. But I worry about my parents because there will be no one to help them when I leave.

After I get married, my life will change. Four families live in my husband's family compound. Many children also. And a pair of black and white pigs.

My future husband's job will require him to live on the island of Java, a 10-hour bus ride away. Like most government workers, his salary is not so much. Teaching foreigners, I can make almost three times as much as him. I will be able to see him just once a month.

But my obligation is to stay at his house, take care of his family temple, and perform the daily ceremonies.

Because women are working, their role in the family is changing. Many women who have a career find it hard to pay attention to Balinese tradition. We can buy offerings instead of taking the time to make them. But I feel guilty if I do that.

I want to be a woman who has a career. But I also want to be a woman who cares about the Balinese tradition - raising children, making offerings, and caring for my husband and family.

* * * *

Wilma Phone, of New Mexico, has dedicated her life to preserving her people's heritage.

I am a member of the Jicarilla Apache Tribe. I have been working for the tribe for 15 years as a Jicarilla language teacher and translator.

As a young girl, I never imagined that I would be a teacher. When I was five years old, I was put in the [tuberculosis] sanitarium here in Dulce. I spent 3-1/2 years there. I was so lonely.

I only understood my native language, and only knew my native ways. I had a hard time learning English. Yet I never forgot my language, even when I was punished for speaking it. All my thoughts were in Jicarilla.

After I got out of the sanitarium, I went to live with my mother again. In those days, a woman's role was not easy. There was no running water or gas stove to cook on. We had to haul water and chop wood every day.

As the oldest child in my family, I did most of the work. I watched over the younger children, herded the sheep, and had to catch the horses when we needed them. I didn't have the luxury of going to school. I only finished sixth grade.

I was out of school for 20 years, and one day my husband told me to attend adult education here in Dulce. So, during the 1960s, I spent four years getting my high school diploma.

Sometimes it was hard to do what I wanted because of not having the educational background, but I didn't let that hold me back. My main role was to teach my native language. This is a gift from the Great Spirit that I can write my language and use it to teach. Our native language ties us to our ancestors and our history - it also binds us Jicarilla Apache people together. If you can't speak your language, you can't sing your songs or pray for the power that is there when you use your language.

I am a grandmother taking care of my granddaughter, Haeyalyn Muniz. When I speak to her in Jicarilla, she tells me, ''Speak English,'' and I tell her English is Mangaani, meaning white people, and that is everybody's language. Knowing your native language is knowing who you are.

We all have that gift of talent that was given to us by the Great Spirit. We have to use that talent to teach our young ones what our elders taught us. One of the ways I express my thanks to the Great Spirit for my gift is to translate hymns into Jicarilla and sing them in church.

* * * *

Gharbieh, whose name means both ''western'' and ''stranger,'' has been a refugee all her life and lives in a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank.

My parents called me Gharbieh because I was their first child born after they ran away from their village near Haifa in 1948. We had left our homeland in the west and become strangers in another land.

With all our troubles and poverty, my father helped all of us to finish high school or even university.

When I was 18 I went to study in Morocco. There I got my law degree, but when I returned to the West Bank, there was no work. I began holding workshops and lecturing to women on labor law and Islamic law.

My people are good, but as in other Eastern societies, they believe that women should take orders from men. One custom I try to fight against is early marriage. The girls are often young teenagers when their families try to marry them off.

I tell the women that at 15, a girl is still a child. She should at least be allowed to finish high school.

Women here are used to obeying the men in the family: their fathers, husbands, brothers - even their own sons. So we have much work to do to teach women about their rights as human beings.

But I have also learned from the women I work with. I've learned how to be patient and how to listen.

* * * *

Aurora Tortolero, of Mexico, is a mother and former tourism executive.

In Spanish, Aurora means ''dawn.'' At 50, I feel like I'm at a turning point in my life, and the life of my country. For so long, machismo and corruption have controlled our lives. Many people are trying to change this, but it's not easy. The song ''Mujer'' (''Woman'') says if you speak out with your own ideas, people will say ugly things about you. But we are not willing to be quiet anymore.

In my case, I belong to the middle class: women who've had successful careers. I was an executive in the tourist industry. But in Mexico at 40, you're considered too old to be hired. Experience is not valued. It's a question of who you know, not what you know.

Many Mexican women stay in bad marriages because of economics. When I divorced the father of my children 20 years ago, it was considered a scandal. He called me a prostitute for wanting to work and become independent. Then, the judge gave him custody, saying a good mother would never leave her place in the home. I had to fight for two years to get my children back.

I believe machismo and corruption are the wrong values to pass on to our children. I've tried to teach my son and my daughter that honesty and dignity are more important than becoming successful at the expense of others.

Fortunately, the times are changing. And like my name, Aurora, Mexican women are facing the dawn. For example, there are now places women can go for legal advice and moral support. I feel hopeful about the future, in a more democratic Mexico in which women, can defend themselves and help create a new society.

* Support for ''Voices Heard,'' including reports from the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, comes from The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Shaler Adams Foundation, The Henry P. Kendall Foundation, and The Ford Foundation.

The series was produced for Monitor Radio by Margo Melnicove and Susannah Lee. Kristina Lindborg was senior producer.

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